Audio: Listen to this article.
Before I take a few days off to wind down the Summer, enjoying two Pearl Jam shows here in Minnesota this week, and the Labor Day holiday, I just have to write an article about boxed sets. I thought I was over boxed sets once "everything" was available for download or streaming. However, my journey into immersive audio has plunged me back into the boxed set world more than ever, and I have some strong feelings about this super deluxe world.
The first boxed set I owned was the Led Zeppelin crop circles four CD box. It blew my 15 year old mind when I received it for Christmas in 1990. My older brother and I went up to my room, put in one disc at a time, and listened to the entire box. He schooled me on the less known tracks and introduced me to some deep cuts. It's a memory I'll cherish forever.
In 2023 boxed sets are a different animal. Each of us could put together a streaming playlist, call it the Led Zeppelin boxed set, and listen to the equivalent of what I had in 1990. Except now it would be high resolution. At first blush this seems much better. But, I challenge anyone to give it a shot and assign a number from 1 to 10 on the meaning and value of that new playlist. The experience falls pretty flat.
Even purchasing and downloading the equivalent of a boxed set is less than stellar. It's better than the streaming playlist boxed set, but still nothing like an official physical boxed set.
On the other end of this continuum are the boxed sets that have eaten away at my retirement in the last year. I'm absolutely cool with expensive boxed sets, but I'm not thrilled with many of them. I value the music, information, photos, and videos in that order. Anything else is filler.
For example, I purchased the Moving Pictures and Signals boxed sets from the band Rush. The Moving Pictures box was $300 and, "Includes a 3 CD set featuring the 2015 album remaster and the complete, unreleased Toronto concert from March 25, 1981. All audio is also showcased on 5 LPs cut at half-speed DMM on 180-gram vinyl. Blu-ray Audio disc presents a first-ever Dolby Atmos and new 5.1 surround album mix including the brand-new video for "YYZ" + 3 music videos. Extras include a book, model car, drumsticks, posters, and more!"
I purchased it solely for the Blu-ray because that's the only way to obtain the lossless TrueHD Dolby Atmos version of this album. The other music included is welcomed, even for this luke warm Rush fan. What I can't stand are the trinkets. A model car, drumsticks, guitar picks, pin, and fake concert ticket don't move the needle in the right direction for me.
Rubbing more salt in the wounds of those of us who purchased this box upon its release is the current price of $126. This makes one wonder what the box is really worth if it's for sale, brand new, for 58% less than MSRP. I could've waited for this price drop, but I could've also missed out on the box if it went out of print.
Rush of course isn't the only band doing this. I currently have The Who - Who's Next / Life House (10CD) Super Deluxe Edition on order. It was $300 when first announced. The price has dropped 14% even though the box hasn't been released yet, and Amazon offers a pre-order price guarantee, which makes it a little more palatable. I like that this box contains a ton of music, but I think having five different versions of Baba O’Riley crosses into filler territory (Baba O’Riley (remastered), Baba O’Riley (original demo), Baba O’Riley (demo), Baba O’Riley (first editing demo), and Baba O’Riley (TrueHD Dolby Atmos)). Definite filler, "2 gig posters, 2 concert programs, 4 buttons & a band photo with printed autographs."
With my rant out of the way, I want to give credit where credit is due. There are artists releasing what I consider to be perfect boxed sets. My two most recent favorites are from the artist named Fish and the band The Pineapple Thief. These guys have hit the happy medium between streaming playlist and a $300 box of trinkets.
Fish - 13th Star (£37.50) (link)
I'd honestly never heard of Fish with an F, prior to seeing that he'd released a boxed set with a TrueHD Dolby Atmos version of his album 13th Star. I listened to the stereo version, then decided I needed the Blu-ray with Atmos. When the box arrived I was thrilled because the music and Atmos mix are great, and the items included are an absolute perfect mix of what I want and what I'm willing to pay for and feel happy about my purchase. For £37.50 the 13th Star box contains the 2023 remixed version of the album, a 100 page hardcover book with tons of information and photos, three CDs including demos and live acoustic recordings, a Blu-ray with Atmos, 5.1, and original 2008 mixes, a two hour documentary, and a full concert video.
I read the 100 page book cover to cover because it was a fascinating peak into the life of Fish. It was information I couldn't get anywhere else and it was all in a really nice book. I should also mention the size of the box / book is perfect. Nothing huge to take up more shelf space than necessary.
I think offering the lossy Atmos version on streaming services Apple Music, Amazon Music, and Tidal, while offering the lossless TrueHD Atmos version via purchased Blu-ray is a great way for artists to make money and satisfy fans. It's a win-win and it doesn't have to be in a $300 box of trinkets. Heck, Fish even gives fans the option of paying an extra £20.00 for a personalized signature on the box. It's optional and it's handwritten. Another win.
The Pineapple Thief - How Did We Find Our Way: 1999-2006 ($95) (link)
The Pineapple Thief is a band I'd also never heard of until I got into immersive audio. I saw its album Nothing But the Truth available for purchase as a lossless TrueHD Atmos download and I went for it. I really liked the music and subsequently purchased a Blu-ray of the Give if Back album. This year The Pineapple Thief released an amazing boxed set titled How Did We Find Our Way: 1999-2006, for $95.
"Containing TPT’s first five studio albums - from Abducting The Unicorn to Little Man - plus the two 8 Days recordings and 80 minutes of rare bonus material, How Did We Find Our Way: 1999-2006 is the first in a series of deluxe book-sets cataloguing the The Pineapple Thief’s output.
All albums have been remixed from their original sessions and are offered in stereo, Dolby Atmos and 5.1 DTS-HD surround.
TPT's Steve Kitch has mastered the stereo mixes.
Bruce says, “The Atmos mixes in this box set could be played on anything from a huge theatre with 100 speakers to an enthusiasts home setup with perhaps 8 speakers through to something much more straightforward such as a soundbar or even streamed to headphones.”.
The set includes a 64-page book featuring previously unseen, rare photographs from Bruce’s personal archive, along with superb liner notes from Anil Prasad and interviews with Bruce.
Limited edition, one time pressing. Exclusive art print signed by Bruce Soord for the first 500 orders on Burning Shed only."
The best part about this boxed set is that it includes all seven albums in TrueHD Dolby Atmos on a single Blu-ray Disc! It's so efficient! There's no need for separate discs because a Blu-ray can hold tens of GB worth of data. This box is all about music, with some nice information and photos. It's perfect for me. Plus, similar to the Fish release and opposite of any major label release, purchasers could get an art print included that was actually hand signed by Bruce Soord, not some machine with a marker (aka printer).
It was, and still is, a real treat to sit down to seven albums I'd never heard previously, all in TrueHD Dolby Atmos. I was able to rip the entire Blu-ray in a single shot, creating files for my music server that I enjoy in Atmos all the time. I hope more bands will look at what The Pineapple Thief has done and release entire back catalogs on one, two, or three Blu-ray Discs. For the most part, the effort to remix in TrueHD Atmos has been done because that's needed to produce the lossy versions released to streaming. Going the extra step of getting a Blu-ray authored will certainly return more money than the fraction of a penny streaming is delivering to artist bank accounts, and it'll make us fans very happy :~)
As I was finishing this article I noticed a new Frank Zappa super deluxe edition for the Over-Nite Sensation album. It contains four CDs and a Blu-ray. The CDs are reasonable, with 57 unreleased tracks or mixes and two live concert discs. The Blu-ray, "contains the album newly re-mixed in Dolby Atmos and 5.1 surround by Karma Auger and Erich Gobel at Studio1LA, Zappa’s original 4-channel Quadraphonic mix (available for the first time since 1973), and the Hi-Res stereo 2012 remaster at 192K24B and 96K24B." That's fantastic anyway you look at it. It's as if Zappa's team surveyed the vault and the amount of space available on a Blu-ray and said, "can we fit it all on there?" I love it. Pre-order complete.
Cheers to those producing what music lovers want. Now it's time to get ready for PEARL JAM AT XCEL ENERGY CENTER!!!
P.S. Here are the details about the Wu-Tang Clan album Once Upon a Time in Shaolin that I used in the main photo for the article. It's quite a story.